Make your world bigger with Working Out Loud

When I first heard the term "Working Out Loud" I was thinking: The next hype and stuff some consultant wants to sell. After finishing my first circle I can say: This is one of the most important tools for New Work I got to know. And I can't imagine going back.

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My first contact with WOL was last year in autumn when I heard an episode of the t3n podcast about Working Out Loud (in German). I read the term once before when it was mentioned in some blog post and it sounded like some new esoteric movement. But this episode made me curious. It sounded interesting and promised so much. But what exactly do you do, when working out loud?

At the beginning of November, we at Axel Springer had the chance to welcome Sabine Kluge with a great one and a half hour workshop. She is one of the most famous speakers and evangelists for WOL within Germany. We got to experience the principles of Working out Loud first hand. This lead to our very first WOL Circle within Axel Springer, which I was part of.

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Why do I need it?

In our current world, which is shaped by innovation, agility and new work, learning becomes more and more important. Your knowledge from 5 years ago? Not important anymore. Companies and superiors cannot tell you what you should learn anymore. It's more than ever the responsibility of every single person to care about their career and what they should learn. It's called life-long learning. But how do you find time for learning in this modern stressful and always-on world? When the operational pressure at work is high? You need to form new learning habits. But creating new habits is hard, isn't it?

So it comes down to form new habits of learning. Which needs four things, according to most books and studies:

  • Small steps

  • Chart your progress

  • Reward Successes

  • Seek per support

And that's the first part what Working out Loud is about and why you need it.

The second part is: What makes some people love their job? Short spoiler: It's not about perceiving what you do as a job, career or calling. It's about psychological needs, according to Daniel Pink and his famous book Drive. Those are competence, autonomy and relatedness. Autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for,cultivated, and defended privately by each person.
— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

In his book Flow Csikszentmihalyi describes principles for happiness: Setting your own goals, developing your skills, being more conscious of others rather than self-conscious and being able to concentrate. That's also what Working Out Loud is about.

And the third thing: Current structures of companies, especially enterprise size ones, are not fit for the requirements of this modern world. Where you need networks, you have silos and departments. Modern companies are more like machines. In the book Humanize from Jamie Notter he describes what the negative effects of those companies are. People feel disengaged. Micromanaging bosses, performance reviews, denied access to learning opportunities. What you actually need is a great network within the company. And that's also what Working Out Loud is about.

What does it mean to Work Out Loud?

It's a very structured 12-week plan with weekly guides ("Circle Guides"). You form a circle with 3-5 people. You set your personal goal. You meet weekly (on- or offline). You work through this week's Circle Guide for one hour per week. Within this 12 weeks, you will be part of a self-organized team and will complete several exercises in which you will apply the WOL principles (e.g. relationships, generosity, visible work). You will support each other and progress in small steps each week. Everything while working on your personal goal which matters for you and which can be independent from work.

The Circle Guides are totally free and can be found in nearly every language on the WOL website.

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Five Elements of Working Out Loud

In his book John Stepper describes five elements or principles on which his concepts are based on:

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Relationships

You build sustainable relationships that can help. But not according to the classic networking principle ("one hand washes the other"), but in the sense that you yourself make a meaningful contribution (see next point).

Generosity

You share knowledge without expecting anything in return, but in order to contribute something constructive and thus sustainably strengthen the network.

Visible Work

This (eponymous) point means, as mentioned above, that you make your own work visible, but in a way that can serve as a valuable contribution to the network and not as a pure self-portrayal.

Purposeful Discovery

By choosing an individual goal, one directs one's activities towards it: What resources do I need? How and what can I contribute in order to get closer to the goal and learn something in the process?

Growth Mindset

The world is full of opportunities! WOL is about always approaching things openly and curiously and thus discovering those many possibilities that can bring you closer to your goal.

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This, in turn, leads to an open and collaborative corporate culture in which knowledge exchange takes place and knowledge silos are broken up. No wonder, then, that WOL is already being used successfully in many companies such as Siemens, Daimler, BOSCH and Continental.

Here is a TED talk where John Stepper himself explains Working Out Loud and his story.

Our first circle at Axel Springer

My goal was to become a better speaker. We finished our first circle this summer. I learned so much in those 12-weeks, did a talk at the FuckUp Night Berlin, became a better speaker and found new friends.

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Here is what I also learned:

  • How to use LinkedIn. And to feel confident in posting something or add new contacts.

  • How to dare to try something new. Even do a phone call with somebody I don't know.

  • Focus on my goals and work with a system.

And now what I want to improve with my second circle:

  • Do the extra tasks in the Circle Guides and even do your self assigned homework.

  • Really block and use time in my calendar to work on my goals.

  • Post more per week and track my progress.

  • Be even braver and get into contact with people.

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What do you think about Working Out Loud? Do you want to try it out? Did you try it out and don't find it useful?